Yoga pioneer wants to improve Saudis’ mind, body, and soul

Though undermined and misunderstood, yoga is a mind and body practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. (Supplied)
Though undermined and misunderstood, yoga is a mind and body practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 November 2021

Yoga pioneer wants to improve Saudis’ mind, body, and soul

Though undermined and misunderstood, yoga is a mind and body practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. (Supplied)
  • Nouf Al-Marwaai wants to capitalize on the emerging popularity of the practice

JEDDAH: After nearly 20 years of teaching, training, and promoting yoga in the Kingdom, the new Saudi Yoga Committee president promised that now is the time to take the practice of yoga to a new level.

“We are working on a strategic plan to promote yoga and encourage the society to participate in yoga activities,” Nouf Al-Marwaai, the first certified yoga instructor in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
“We want to learn more about yoga for health and well-being as it’s suitable for people of different ages.”
With an outpouring of support for yoga in the Kingdom over the past few years, both practitioners and apprentice yogis have established themselves well in the community as Al-Marwaai wants to ride that momentum.
“We are living in a time of real change,” she said. “I’m more motivated than ever to be a productive and a proud Saudi woman and therefore, I am looking forward to serving my society. I want to be an active part of the changes that are taking place in my country. I am sure many other women in many fields and sectors are also motivated and hopeful as well.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Nouf Al-Marwaai started practicing yoga in 1998 when she was 18 years old to cope with Lupus, an autoimmune and rheumatic disease that attacks your body tissues and organs. The inflammation can affect joints, skin, blood cells, and other organs.

• Not only did Al-Marwaai recover from Lupus, but she also returned to school and finished a degree in clinical psychology. After school, she established herself as one of the Middle East’s foremost yoga experts with 20 years of experience on the mat.

• She began teaching yoga in 2004 and her success continued to build. By 2012, Al-Marwaai had trained more than 300 yoga teachers from different regions all over the world and taught 3,000 people how to practice yoga.

Though undermined and misunderstood, yoga is a mind and body practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.
Al-Marwaai started practicing yoga in 1998 when she was 18 years old to cope with Lupus, an autoimmune and rheumatic disease that attacks your body tissues and organs. The inflammation can affect joints, skin, blood cells, and other organs.
“Yoga helped me lead a healthier and active life,” she said. “For this reason, I wanted people to know about it and use yoga as a lifestyle.”




In 2018, Al-Marwaai was named the winner of the Padma Shri Award by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. She was given the award because of her efforts to make yoga accepted as a sports activity in Saudi Arabia.

Not only did Al-Marwaai recover from Lupus, but she also returned to school and finished a degree in clinical psychology. After school, she established herself as one of the Middle East’s foremost yoga experts with 20 years of experience on the mat.
She began teaching yoga in 2004 and her success continued to build. By 2012, Al-Marwaai had trained more than 300 yoga teachers from different regions all over the world and taught 3,000 people how to practice yoga.
Following stints in Australia and India, she assumed the role of “Yogacharya” — a title of respect given to a teacher of yoga — and then set up the Saudi Arabia Yoga School. It was later renamed the Arab Yoga Foundation.
In 2018, Al-Marwaai was named the winner of the Padma Shri Award by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. She was given the award because of her efforts to make yoga accepted as a sports activity in Saudi Arabia. The event was held in New Delhi at the president’s house.
Al-Marwaai said the Saudi Yoga Committee was established on May 16 with the help of 26 other federations, committees, and leagues by the Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee. The committee was established as the Kingdom’s leadership placed great importance on mental and physical health following the Saudi Vision 2030 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“This will help to prevent mental and physical health threats,” Al-Marwaai said. “As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, different sports initiatives took place virtually and were supported by Saudi federations. The Ministry of Sports put an emphasis on health and well-being during that difficult time.”




We are living in a time of real change. I am looking forward to serving my society.
Nouf Al-Marwaai

While yoga continued to gain popularity in the Kingdom, the demand grew and was later recognized by relevant health and sports authorities.
“I met Princess Reema bint Bandar in February 2017 and we spoke about yoga recognition and she welcomed the idea,” Al-Marwaai said. “She immediately connected me with a team of experts in the Ministry of Sports to work on the regulations and standards and then yoga was listed as a sports activity in the Ministry of Commerce.”
The Saudi Yoga Committee continues to spread the awareness of yoga through organized activities and events, Al-Marwaai said.
“We are working in the Leadership Institute on yoga standards and a memorandum of understanding to be signed with the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa, and Homoeopathy out of India,” she said.
“In addition, we are also participating in the Asian Games second edition event in November sponsored and organized by Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Marwaai affirmed that Saudis are becoming increasingly more health-conscious, which has resulted in a growing demand for a broader range of yoga centers across the Kingdom. In line with this, yoga is becoming one of the most popular physical activities in Saudi Arabia, especially among women. It has created a communal focal point where people can engage in, practice, and experience for themselves the power of yoga and realize the benefits of this ancient technique to improve mind, body, and soul.


Saudi Arabia confirms first omicron COVID-19 case

Saudi Arabia confirms first omicron COVID-19 case
Updated 3 min 22 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirms first omicron COVID-19 case

Saudi Arabia confirms first omicron COVID-19 case
  • The passenger, along with those he was in contact with, has been isolated, according to SPA

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia confirmed Wednesday its first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant on a passenger coming from north Africa, state news agency SPA reported. 
The passenger, along with those he was in contact with, has been isolated, SPA added. 
The spread of the latest strain comes as Saudi Arabia’s ban on direct travel from several countries ended, with the Kingdom continuing to relax pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Travelers from six countries — India, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil and Vietnam — can now arrive in the Kingdom without having to spend 14 days outside those countries before entering Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia’s flight ban ends for travelers from India, Egypt, Pakistan

Saudi Arabia’s flight ban ends for travelers from India, Egypt, Pakistan
Updated 01 December 2021

Saudi Arabia’s flight ban ends for travelers from India, Egypt, Pakistan

Saudi Arabia’s flight ban ends for travelers from India, Egypt, Pakistan
  • Travelers will need a valid PCR certificate and register on the Qdoom platform 72 hours before their flight

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s ban on direct travel from several countries ended on Wednesday, as the Kingdom continues to relax pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Travelers from six countries — India, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil and Vietnam — can now arrive in the Kingdom without having to spend 14 days outside those countries before entering Saudi Arabia.

The travelers will need a valid PCR test certificate and must register on the Qdoom platform 72 hours before their flight departs.

They will also need to enter institutional quarantine for five days when they arrive, regardless of their immunization status outside of the Kingdom, and will need to take tests on the first and fifth days of their quarantine.

Though Saudi Arabia has eased travel from some destinations, it has been forced to implement new restrictions on some African countries after a concerning new COVID-19 variant, omicron, was detected in South Africa last week.


What’s on in December as Saudi Arabia’s busy cultural season kicks off

What’s on in December as Saudi Arabia’s busy cultural season kicks off
Updated 01 December 2021

What’s on in December as Saudi Arabia’s busy cultural season kicks off

What’s on in December as Saudi Arabia’s busy cultural season kicks off
  • First up will be Misk Art Week, annual weeklong program to be held at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall in Riyadh
  • Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is probably the biggest attraction of the Kingdom’s upcoming cultural season

DUBAI: In common with other parts of the world, art, culture, and entertainment took a back seat in Saudi Arabia during the worst phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now, with infection rates under control in the Kingdom thanks to a successful immunization campaign, a two-year period of event closures and cancellations has finally ended.

Take December, which promises to be an especially action-packed month in the Saudi cultural calendar, with events running the gamut from in-person exhibitions and concerts to grand openings, many of which had been rescheduled since the onset of the pandemic.

The exterior of Hayy Jameel, Art Jameel’s new center in Jeddah. (Supplied)


First up will be Misk Art Week, opening at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall in Riyadh on Dec. 1. This annual weeklong program of exhibitions is being staged by the Misk Art Institute, operating under the auspices of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Then comes the first edition of Riyadh Art, billed as the largest public civic arts initiative of its kind in the world. Running from Dec. 5 to 8, it will feature 12 programs launched by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City to transform the Saudi capital into “a gallery without walls.”

Meanwhile, over in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, the Jameel Art Center is scheduled to open its long-awaited, multidisciplinary arts complex, Hayy Jameel, on Dec. 6.

Also coming to Jeddah in December is the annual Red Sea Film Festival. The Dec. 6 to 15 event, first launched in 2019, prides itself on featuring emerging talents from Saudi Arabia, the Arab region, and the developing world.
 

Aya Albakree is the CEO of the Thunaiyat Ad-Diriyah Foundation. (Supplied)

Then, to crown it all, the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale opens on Dec. 11 in the new JAX district of Diriyah, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site At-Turaif, the first capital of the House of Saud dynasty founded in the 15th century. The event — Saudi Arabia’s first — will run until March 11.

Culture is an integral part of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, launched five years ago to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil as well as to embrace sectors such as tourism, technology and the creative industries.

Philip Tinari, director and chief executive officer of the Beijing-based UCCA Center for Contemporary Art and the lead curator behind the Diriyah biennale, told Arab News: “This is an art scene on the brink of greatly increased prominence and much of that has to do with government initiatives at all kinds of levels.

“Another big part of it has to do with this generation of artists who, maybe before these changes, were living abroad and have now decided to move home where they are finding new vectors of support.”
 

An installation by Lowrence Lek, who will feature at the Diriyah art biennale. (Supplied)

Before the COVID-19 outbreak morphed into a pandemic in early 2020, Saudi Arabia was gearing up to become a global destination for the arts.

Seasonal festivals were already popping up throughout the country and the ancient northwestern city of AlUla was staging a variety of concerts, conferences, and open-air exhibitions.

The cultural explosion was triggered partly by the Kingdom’s decision to open up to foreign tourists in September 2019 with a new electronic visa scheme. However, as the health crisis went global a few months later, the country was forced to close its doors once again.

Now that international travel has resumed with COVID-19 protocols in place, the cultural floodgates are open once more and visitors to the Kingdom are spoilt for choice.

FASTFACTS

• The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is the biggest attraction of Riyadh’s crowded cultural season.

• Hayy Jameel, designed by architectural studio waiwai, is Art Jameel’s new dedicated home for the arts in Jeddah.

Hayy Jameel is among the most hotly anticipated openings of the year. Designed by the multi-award-winning architectural studio waiwai, Art Jameel’s new dedicated home for the arts in Jeddah has been billed as a dynamic, creative hub for the community.

Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel, told Arab News: “Hayy Jameel has been in the planning for more than 20 years, but it couldn’t have come to fruition at a timelier moment.

“The launch of our creative neighborhood accompanies an incredibly exciting calendar of events. The opening season opens to the public from Dec. 6 and unfolds through the spring, as cultural partners launch their spaces and we open the indie Hayy Cinema, making the complex Jeddah’s true home for the arts.”

In any event, the creative arts environment in Saudi Arabia is maturing fast, boosting demand for dedicated spaces for exhibitions, screenings and performances.

Carver said: “It needs independent, community-oriented endeavors working alongside the larger-scale government-led initiatives.
 

At-Turaif in Diriyah will host part of the Diriyah art biennale. (Supplied)

“The Ministry of Culture and other government entities are actively encouraging the not-for-profit sector and organizations like Art Jameel, given our mandate to give back to Saudi and support artists and nurture creative communities.

“To balance out the current breakneck pace of development, and demands on Saudi artists, we’re also aiming to foreground opportunities to develop long-term research, ideas, and skills; to explore and document local histories; develop contextual learning resources in Arabic; and to cross-pollinate the various creative art forms, bringing together visual arts, film, performance, architecture, design, and more.”

While Jeddah positions itself as one of the region’s foremost cultural destinations, Riyadh refuses to be outdone. First up in the Saudi capital’s cultural calendar is Misk Art Week.

Reem Al-Sultan, CEO of Misk Art Institute, told Arab News: “The fifth edition of Misk Art Week unites emerging and established artists in Saudi Arabia and across the globe with experts in critical and cultural discourse.

“Misk Art Institute offers an insightful array of multidisciplinary practices and international perspectives, providing a unique, educational experience to both the participating creatives and to the public engaging with these compelling conversations.”

Opening just a few days later will be Riyadh Art, staged by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, of which the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium is part. The program includes an awards ceremony and will convene 20 sculptors from Saudi Arabia, the Arab region, and around the world.

Khalid Al-Hazzani, an architect and the RCRC’s director of projects, told Arab News: “Riyadh Art continues to transform the city into a gallery without walls with the launch of the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium, its second initiative.
 

Philip Tinari, director of the Beijing-based UCCA Center for Contemporary Art and the lead curator of the Diriyah art biennale. (Supplied)

“As art and culture reflect the spirit of a city, we look forward to contributing to Riyadh’s vibrant art season this December and offering a platform for cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.”

The Riyadh Art Project is just one of the city’s four mega-projects launched by King Salman on March 19, 2019. Dubbed a milestone in Riyadh’s mission to become one of the world’s most livable cities, the initiative will involve the installation of more than 1,000 artworks across the metropolis.

The Diriyah biennale is undoubtedly the biggest attraction of the crowded cultural season. Developed by a team of international curators led by Tinari, the event will feature works by around 70 artists examining the theme, “Feeling the Stones.”

The biennial event will alternate each year between a contemporary art and an Islamic art exhibition under the auspices of the Diriyah Foundation, chaired by Prince Badr Al-Saud.

“I think the Diriyah biennale will consolidate much of the progress that has been made,” Tinari said, referring to Saudi Arabia’s cultural awakening.

“What is really special about it is the scale — spread across 12,000 square meters of newly converted warehouse space that will be dedicated to this event moving forward.

“I hope that the Diriyah biennale will become a benchmark for the scene more generally and that other kinds of art events will congregate around it.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Red Sea Fund announces support for 26 Saudi films

Red Sea Fund announces support for 26 Saudi films
Updated 01 December 2021

Red Sea Fund announces support for 26 Saudi films

Red Sea Fund announces support for 26 Saudi films
  • In its first cycle, the fund carefully selected 90 ‘game-changing’ films from over 650 submissions

JEDDAH: The Red Sea Fund will support 26 Saudi films in a list of 90 carefully selected projects from the Arab World and Africa.
Following over 650 submissions, the fund on Tuesday announced its final selection of the much-anticipated projects, aiming to create a game-changing generation of filmmakers.
The grants will be given to 37 films in development, 33 live projects, and 28 films in post-production.
Of the projects to receive funding, 11 hail from Africa, 60 from the Arab region, and 26 from Saudi Arabia.
The exciting and unique selection includes 59 feature fictions, 18 feature documentaries, 10 short fictions, five feature animations, three episodic series, and two short animations.
The fund will also back 28 talented Saudi film directors, 54 percent of whom are female.
The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation established the fund in June to back 100 feature films, short projects, and episodics by directors from the Arab world and Africa.
The fund was supported earlier this year by the Saudi Film Commission to help a larger pool of talented filmmakers from the Kingdom and the Arab region bring their work from script to screen.
Three committees of industry professionals were formed for each section of the funding: Development, production, and post-production support.
Edouard Waintrop, artistic director of the Red Sea International Film Festival and head of the committee awarding funds for post-production, said: “There is a wealth of undiscovered talent in Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world. As pioneers and believers in the importance of cinema and film in driving inspiration, creativity, and innovation, we are very proud to enable these brilliant artists to showcase their work by investing in their talents and empowering them to realize their dreams through the Red Sea Fund.
“These exceptional cinematic works will challenge people’s perceptions of traditional cinema and revive the film industry in KSA and the region.”
He continued: “We truly cannot wait to see these selections come to fruition and find their way to the big screen.”


Erdogan: Turkey will work to enhance relations with Saudi Arabia

Erdogan: Turkey will work to enhance relations with Saudi Arabia
Updated 01 December 2021

Erdogan: Turkey will work to enhance relations with Saudi Arabia

Erdogan: Turkey will work to enhance relations with Saudi Arabia
  • The Turkish president also promised developments with Egypt

RIYADH: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey will work to enhance its relations with Saudi Arabia, Al Arabiya reported.

In May, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Makkah.

They agreed to “work on positive issues on our common agenda and to hold regular consultations,” Cavusoglu said, adding: “Our close cooperation will contribute to stability, peace and prosperity in the region.”

The president’s remarks were made on Tuesday during an interview on state-owned news channel TRT World.

Commenting on recent improvement in Turkish-UAE relations, Erdogan said: “The step we took with the UAE is important and historic, and I will visit the UAE in February.”

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed visited Ankara last week in his first official trip to Turkey since 2012.

The UAE announced a $10 billion fund for investments in Turkey, after the crown prince held talks with the Turkish president.

Erdogan also said in the interview: “We will witness developments with Egypt in the near future.”